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Endocr Relat Cancer. 1999 Mar;6(1):13-6.

Apoptosis in breast cancer: relationship with other pathological parameters.

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  • 1Department of Pathology and Forensic Medicine, University of Kuopio, Finland.


Apoptosis is a frequent phenomenon in breast cancer and it can be detected by light microscopy in conventional histopathological sections or by special staining techniques. The number of apoptotic cells as a percentage of cells present, or the number of apoptotic cells per square millimetre of neoplastic tissue, is usually described as the apoptotic index (AI). In breast cancer, the AI is not related to tumour size, axillary lymph node metastasis or distant metastasis at diagnosis. It is greater in invasive ductal carcinomas than in other histological types. High AI is also related to high histological grade, high nuclear grade, comedo-type necrosis, lack of tubule formation, and dense infiltration of the tumour by lymphocytes. Sex steroid receptor-negative tumours have greater AIs than the sex steroid receptor-positive ones. Aneuploid breast cancers with high S-phase fractions (SPFs) also have high AI values compared with diploid tumours with low SPFs. p53-Positive breast cancers have high AIs, whereas tumours that are Bcl-2 positive have low AIs. The AI shows a strong positive correlation to all direct or indirect indicators of cell proliferation, such as mitotic index and Ki67 immunolabelling. Univariate survival analyses show that a high AI is linked with unfavourable disease outcome in axillary lymph node-negative and -positive breast cancer, but multivariate analyses indicate that AI is not an independent prognostic factor. In conclusion, a high AI is related to malignant cellular features and indicators of invasiveness and cell proliferation in breast cancer.

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